London: NASA has revealed that the Columbia crew, which included first Indian woman in space Kalpana Chawla, were not told the shuttle had been damaged during its launch and that they might not survive re-entry.
The revelation came as the seven astronauts who died were remembered at a public memorial service at Florida on the 10th anniversary of the disaster.
The shuttle was returning from a routine 16-day science mission when it broke apart over Texas.
According to the Daily Mirror, Wayne Hale, who later became space shuttle programme manager, has blogged about the fateful day.
“After one of the MMTs (mission management teams) when possible damage to the orbiter was discussed, he [Flight Director Jon Harpold] gave me his opinion: ‘You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS (thermal protection system),” he wrote.
"If it has been damaged it’s probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?’,” he added.
According to the report, it took months for an investigation to discover the cause of the accident, a briefcase-sized piece of foam, which had broken off an external fuel tank and punched a hole in the wing.